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Standing at Mont Blanc: Coleridge and Midrash

  • Lloyd Guy Davies
Chapter

Abstract

In the summer of 1802, Samuel Taylor Coleridge hiked in solitude through the mountains of northern England’s Lake District for several days. Soon thereafter he composed a poem, based in part on a prior poem, “Chamounix beym Sonnenaufgang,” by Friederika Brun (1765–1835), which describes the experience of seeing the rising sun illuminate the alpine peak of Mont Blanc. On September 11, Coleridge published his poem in the Morning Post, entitling it “Hymn before Sun-rise, in the Vale of Chamouni.”1 Originally well received (though even then with important criticisms from Charles Lamb and William Wordsworth), it has fallen, in modern times, into disrepute. And indeed, from most contemporary critical perspectives, it is difficult to read “Hymn before Sunrise” with appreciation, sympathy, or understanding. This critical antagonism is, in part, the ideological residue of a modernist antipathy against religious faith, and more specifically, against the biblical faith that the poem so fervently celebrates. But it is nevertheless undeniable that the poem suffers from a number of critical problems, chief among them its plagiarism of Brun’s poem, its artificial staging in a location Coleridge had never actually seen, and its forced religious enthusiasm and strident expression of faith. Why did Coleridge transfer the scene from northern England to Switzerland? Why did he not acknowledge his debt to Brun? Why such “hectic rhetoric” in his expressions of religious faith?2 Why, in sum, the striking lack of personal authenticity in Coleridge’s poem?

Keywords

Religious Faith Jewish Tradition Creative Imagination Paradise Lost Creation Account 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 5.
    William Wordsworth, Prose Works, ed. Alexander Grosart, 3 vols. (London: Edward Moxon 1876; New York: AMS Press, 1967), 3:442.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    Thomas Moore, Memoirs, Journal and Correspondence of Thomas Moore, ed. Lord John Russell (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1853–1856), 3:161.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Lionel Trilling discusses Wordsworth in the context of these concepts in his Sincerity and Authenticity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), 90–95.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    Ronald Tetreault, “Shelley and Byron Encounter the Sublime: Switzerland, 1816,” Revue des Langues Vivantes 41 (1975): 149.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Geoffrey H. Hartman and Sanford Budick’s Midrash and Literature (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Collected Letters, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs (Oxford: Clarendon, 1956), 2:865Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    Robert M. Browning’s German Poetry: A Critical Anthology (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1962), 52–61.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Sheila A. Spector 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lloyd Guy Davies

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